1920 – 1958
Nearly half a century ago, scientists raced to discover the secret of life. At the forefront of this effort was a brilliant British researcher who brought her substantial gifts to the study of DNA. Her name was Rosalind Franklin.
Born into an upper middle-class Jewish family, Rosalind Franklin was educated at a private school in London where she studied physics and chemistry from an early age, at an advanced level, especially so for a woman at that time. An excellent and dedicated student, undeterred by the social standard usually set for women, she earned a Ph.D. in physical chemistry in 1945 from Cambridge University.
She then spent four years at the Laboratoire Central des Services Chimiques de L'Etat in Paris. It was there that she learned the techniques of X-ray crystallography, the scientific method that would lead to the discovery of a lifetime.
Early in her career Rosalind Franklin painstakingly conceived of and captured "Photo 51" of the "B" form of DNA in 1952 while at King's College in London. It is this photograph, acquired through 100 hours of X-ray exposure from a machine Dr. Franklin herself refined, that revealed the structure of DNA and the key to understanding how the blueprint of all life on earth is passed down from generation to generation. Never before had X-ray crystallography -- a technique of determining a molecule's three-dimensional structure by analyzing the X-ray diffraction patterns of crystals made up of the molecule in question -- been put to such deft or momentous use.
The discovery of the structure of DNA was the single most important advance of modern biology. Decoding the structure of DNA put us on a path to understanding the human genome. Quite simply, it changed the future of healthcare forever. James Watson and Francis Crick, working at Cambridge University, used Photo 51 as the basis for their famous model of DNA that culminated in their Nobel Prize in 1962.
Rosalind Franklin went on to perform exceptional research at Birkbeck College. She died in 1958 of ovarian cancer, at age 37, perhaps from radiation exposure from her work, or perhaps due to her own genetic makeup. One thing is certain -- she died without ever knowing the true magnitude of her contribution to the science of life.
Rosalind Franklin was one of a kind. She tirelessly blazed trails wherever she went. Her finely honed intelligence, devotion to the highest standards in research, thoughtful mentoring, unwavering loyalty to friends and deep commitment to social justice mandated for Rosalind Franklin, a Life in Discovery.
We honor the enduring legacy of Rosalind Franklin, as well as our own powerful aspirations, by dedicating this University to her excellence.